Mark Cuban recently dismissed the new look Lakers comparing them to their 2003-4 counterparts, the last Laker super-team. That team featured four hall of famers in Kobe Bryant, Shaq, Gary Payton, and Karl Malone. The 2012-13 Laker team still has Kobe and Pau and added two likely hall of famers in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Cuban remarked that he thinks a few Lakers don’t really want to be there and implied that the Lakers may have chemistry issues similar to in 2004. Really Cuban was just trying to get his fan base to buy that the Mavericks have a chance to compete in the West next year. A better example for his point is his 2011 Mavericks (which he also highlighted) who on paper were inferior to LA in every way and still swept them easily. From a Laker fan perspective though it still is interesting to compare this 2012-13 super-team with the 2004 team. The comparisons fall apart rather quickly as the 2003-4 Lakers really don’t compare to any other NBA team ever.
The Lakers in 2003 were coming off of a disappointing postseason loss after winning three straight championships with Kobe, Shaq and a bunch of role players. These Lakers have their best player coming to terms with his age and a secondary star who hasn’t played up to his standards in the past two postseasons. The 2003-4 Lakers had Shaq still in his prime and Kobe entering his. The Lakers have always (and still do today) liked signing aging veterans on the cheap. And that’s exactly what they did in the 2003 offseason except that their aging veterans were sure-fire hall of famers. Gary Payton and Karl Malone were both starting to decline and saw the Lakers as their last grab at an NBA title. The Lakers failure the season before had nothing to do with their stars and everything to do with their supporting cast. Robert Horry left, Brian Shaw retired and Rick Fox was old. The 2011-12 Lakers also had a weak supporting cast and had to make big moves in order to get better, the first of which was reminiscent of the 2003 summer (Steve Nash). The second move (Dwight Howard) had more in common with the 1996 move to land Shaquille O’Neal. The 1995-6 Lakers were good, but they weren’t even close to a title and the 2011-12 Lakers despite their star power were in the same position. They really had to change their team significantly and bring in a news star to carry the franchise (sorry Kobe. Actually he’s probably cool with it).
The Lakers in 2003-4 had an immensely talented player going through adversity in Kobe Bryant. These Lakers have Dwight Howard kind of going through adversity (not really). Kobe was fighting a rape charge. Dwight is trying to come back from a back injury and stop being a stupid douche. Yeah. 2003 and 2004 were the worst years of Kobe Bryant’s life and while he was still great I believe he was off his game just a little (Here's a link to Kobe in 2002-3 and his 2003-4 season. He fell off a little). And that little may have cost the Lakers the championship. The 2003-4 Laker old guys also fell off a bit from their previous seasons (Shaq was among the best in the world despite his fall off, while Malone and Payton went from greatness to pretty goodness). The team was less than the sum of their parts. They had a stretch early in the season when they seemed unbeatable but for the most part they were just one of the best teams in the league (which is dope). These Lakers may also end up being less than the sum of their parts. It remains to be seen how Kobe and Nash will co-exist and whether the Lakers can optimize Pau Gasol’s gifts when Dwight Howard gets healthy. But even if they don’t play 100% to their potential they also will be great by default.
Chemistry wise 2003-4 was the most bizarre team ever. Shaq and Kobe took their feud to another level when Shaq found out Kobe “snitched” on him. Kobe and Phil Jackson got along so poorly that Phil felt compelled write a book ripping Kobe to shreds. Gary Payton did not take well to his reduced role. Karl Malone was cool until he went “hunting for little Mexican girls”(haha). That isn’t gonna happen again. Kobe is too professional, Pau and Steve are too nice, and Dwight Howard is too corny to start any serious beef (except with Stan van Gundy). The 2003-4 Lakers still made it to the NBA Finals and had great moments such as Derek Fisher’s 0.4 shot against the Spurs. Those moments were washed away after a shocking (and forgotten) upset against the Detroit Pistons. I’m still not entirely sure what happened. Shaq was very, very good in that series, but he wasn’t dominant. Malone got injured in the series. Gary Payton was terrible the entire playoffs. Kobe’s 2004 Finals out-chokes Lebron’s 2011 Finals. Kobe won game 2 of the series for the Lakers and lost almost every other game of the series for the Lakers. Game 4 in particular was bad. Shaq had his best game if the series and should he scored 40 or 50 but Kobe inexplicitly took more shots than Shaq did. And most of them were bricks. The Lakers went down to the hard-working, scrappy star-less Pistons. The chemistry between Ben Wallace, Rasheed, Richard Hamilton, Taysuan Price, and Chauncey Billups was tremendous and prevailed over he most talented Lakers.
One things for sure, these Lakers won’t lose to less talent. The Thunder are stacked with three all-star caliber players in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. The Miami Heat have the best player in the League in Lebron James plus Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Barring a sweep I can’t see these Lakers going out like punks either. These Lakers are hungry while those Lakers were disgruntled. Payton with his role, Shaq with his paycheck, Phil with Kobe, and Kobe with everything. These Lakers still have a lot to prove. Dwight has to prove that he can win a title as does Nash, Kobe is trying to cement his legacy even more so and Pau is trying to remind every one that he’s one of the best players in the world. Phil Jackson was on his way out in 2004 while Mike Brown is trying to keep his job. The Lakers in 2003-4 had great talent but didn’t put in the work to become champions (Kobe had a excuse and the rest of the team was justifiably distracted). It remains to be seen whether or not these new new-look Lakers will put in the work. You get the idea by now.
Random note: One of my fav Lakers in 2003-4 was Slava Medvedenko from the Urkaine. Slava was an ok rebounder, a sub-par passer and a really, realy average role player. But I loved him. He'd get the ball at the free-throw line and shoot it every chance he got. His usage rate was as high as Gary Payton's and actually higher than Malone. Its as if Slava was trying to go shot for shot with kobe at times.